(Host) On Town Meeting Day next week, voters in Rutland will have a chance to weigh in on their city’s $17 million budget.
As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, it’ll be a first.
(Keck) Historically, it fell to Rutland’s board of aldermen to decide the fate of the Mayor’s proposed budget.
But a charter change approved last year, now allows residents to have a say.
Mayor Christopher Louras says that’s a good thing. But he says local residents need to understand the consequences of voting down the city’s $17 million budget.
(Louras) "I’ve been very clear that city services will in fact suffer. That shouldn’t be taken as a threat, but it’s just reality. There’s no discretionary spending included in this budget. So, if taxpayers ultimately vote it down, it will mean a reduction in city services and a reduction in staff."
(Keck) In his three years as mayor, Louras says, he’s already cut 25 percent of the city’s administrative workforce and has overseen a 12 percent cut in staff city wide. Despite that, this year’s budget is 8.5 percent higher than last year’s, mostly, Louras says, due to increasing health care costs for city employees.
A citizens’ group has put two proposals on the ballot that would change the city’s charter to require that anyone enrolled in the city’s health care plan pay 20 percent of the cost. If implemented, officials say the measure could save the city over $900,000. But the mayor says the proposals could also lead to litigation or binding arbitration.
(Louras) "I believe in the goal of 20 percent employee contributions for health care but I’m not quite sure charter changes is the way to go about it."
(Keck) But there are also several spending initiatives for street paving, a new effort to curb worker’s compensation and energy efficiency improvements that the mayor says are necessary.
David Allaire, president of the Rutland City Board of Aldermen, worries those spending increases may be too much considering the economy.
(Allaire) "All these things taken individually are very worthwhile projects. The problem that I have with them is it seems to be all or nothing. And I would like to see some of these programs put together incrementally and spread out over two or three years, so the impact on the taxpayers would be much less."
(Keck) Rutland resident Dawn Hance – one of the founders of Rutland Taxpayers United – the group that spearheaded efforts to put the budget in front of voters – says she and many in the city are fed up.
(Hance) "I was born in this city, I love this city and I don’t want to have to leave it. But when I retire I’m going to have to. I can’t afford to stay here and pay taxes."
(Keck) Hance and many others in Rutland will be able to act on their concerns next Tuesday at the polls.
For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.